Here we go again, for the third time in four seasons, the Patriots and the Ravens meet in the NFL playoffs and for the second consecutive year, a Super Bowl trip is on the line. With the Colts losing Peyton Manning and entering a (so far successful) rebuilding phase, the magic of that rivalry has been diminished and the Ravens have stepped up as the best out of division foe for the class of the AFC. Despite the Patriots transitioning into a finesse, fast-paced team, every time Baltimore comes to town, they find themselves in a rough battle that usually goes down to the wire. This iteration of the rivalry began in 2007 as the Patriots were setting off on their record breaking season and Baltimore was closing the Brian Billick era and has taken several turns all for the better thanks to several drama filled contests. An examination of these games reveals how the rivalry has grown into the fierce battle it is now.
2007 Week 13: Patriots (27) d Ravens (24)
The undefeated Patriots travelled to the struggling Ravens on Monday Night Football for what was expected to be nothing more than a notch on their belt as they strode towards an undefeated season. Fuelled by the desire to end New England’s unbeaten run, the Ravens gave New England a true test in a game that would go down as an instant classic. In spite of having Kyle Boller at quarterback, the Ravens offense had one of their best days against the Patriots and looked like pulling off a major upset. Unfortunately on that night the Ravens best shot was not good enough and a masterful final drive by the Patriots offense (as well as some heartbreaking penalties) gave New England the win and set off the fireworks in this rivalry. It all came down to a fourth and 1 on the Patriots winning drive, first Brady tried to sneak for the first down before being stuffed by Ray Lewis but the play was negated thanks to Rex Ryan calling a timeout just before the snap. On take two of fourth and 1, guard Stephen Neal flinched causing flags to fly and negating the stop of Sammy Morris’s run, further infuriating the Ravens team before the third time proved lucky as the Patriots converted on a Brady scramble to keep the drive alive before the winning touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left. It was the equivalent of a heavyweight fight with both sides trading punches right up until the final bell which saw the Patriots squeak through as the victor.
2009 Week 4: Patriots (27) d Ravens (21)
With the teams not playing each other in 2008 the next meeting took place in early 2009 as the Patriots escaped with another narrow victory. The Patriots lead for the majority of the game and were able to hold onto their lead right to the end. Of course there was plenty of good fortune in the Patriots favour in this one, on baltimore’s final possession, they faced third down from the Pats 14 yard line and had Derrick Mason drop a pass before Mark Clayton made another error letting the ball go as Patriots defenders were bearing down on him to end the drive and subject the Ravens to another loss to New England. In Brady’s first game against the Ravens since his ACL reconstruction, there were some heated confrontations as Ravens linebackers dove in the vicinity of Brady’s knees, something against the rules (despite Baltimore’s protests) and something that adds another layer to this already great rivalry.
2009 Wild Card Round: Ravens (33) d Patriots (14)
The Ravens return to Gillette Stadium in January 2010 was a much happier occasion for them as they secured their franchise’s first ever win over New England and it was one of the most dominating performances they had ever produced. A battered, depleted and disenfranchised Patriots side, missing Wes Welker who had blown his ACL a week earlier were outhit, outfought, outmuscled and generally outplayed by a Baltimore team that was not intimidated by the Patriots resume. The game started with Ray Rice bursting through the Patriots line to go 83 yards for a touchdown before Brady was strip-sacked by Terrell Suggs. It went from bad to worse as New England was down 24-0 before the first quarter ended thanks in large part to some inept play from the entire Pats offense but in particular Brady who committed three turnovers and barely looked like he’d woken up that day. From then on it became a case of damage limitation for New England who scored two touchdowns and held Baltimore to three field goals as the inevitable was confirmed. The better team won that day and thoroughly deserved to, perhaps the underrated scene from that day was Ravens special teamer Kelley Washington (a member of the 07 Patriots) standing on the bench waving at the departing fans telling them that “the dynasty is dead” and to go home. As we all know now, it wasn’t over then, it just had a new antagonist.
2010 Week 6: Patriots (23) d Ravens (20) [OT]
In the first game of the post Randy Moss era, the Patriots brought back a familiar friend in Deion Branch to fill Moss’s void and it was a welcome return in this instance. It was very nearly a tie as both teams traded blows during overtime before Steven Gostkowski ended things with less than two minutes to play. A delicately poised 10-7 game at halftime quickly turned in Baltimore’s favour as they jumped to a 17-7 lead then a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Branch’s return was marked by a touchdown to bring the Patriots back to within three early in the fourth before the game was tied with just under two minutes to play. In overtime Branch again was a central figure picking up several key first downs on the winning drive and cementing his place as a Foxboro favourite.
2011 AFC Championship: Patriots (23) d Ravens (20)
In a series with several classic games, this one stands out as the crown jewel of them all as these two teams once again went for broke with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Baltimore managed to check off a key part of their defensive game plan forcing Brady into a poor performance throwing three interceptions but they did not count on the Patriots second last ranked defense stepping up and making the plays to keep them in the game. Back and forth the scores went, before Brady put New England up thanks to a dive over his line with seven minutes left. As we all know, with time running out, the Ravens drove down to the New England red zone before Lee Evans had the ball knocked out of his hands by Sterling Moore. Fourth down came and the Ravens had a chip shot field goal ready to go as Billy Cundiff jogged on the field, he stepped up and struck the ball, only for it to sail wide left and end the Ravens season.
2012 Week 3: Ravens (31) d Patriots (30)
The most recent game came in September between these two powerhouse teams and it was yet another classic that came down to a Baltimore field goal attempt. This time it was rookie Justin Tucker who was charged with the responsibility of winning the game and he (just) delivered, barely getting his kick inside the right post. The star of this game was Ravens receiver Torrey Smith who was playing through tremendous grief as his younger brother had died less than 24 hours before kickoff. Smith torched the struggling Patriots secondary with 6 catches for 127 yards and 2 scores as Baltimore did the smart thing and attacked the Patriots weakness. While nobody can argue the final result was unfair or unjust in any way, this was one of the final games under the replacement referees which lead to some farcical moments which fans are hopefully never subjected to again.
In spite of all of the hostility and tension between the two teams there is a great deal of respect as well, especially between their two leaders in Brady and Lewis. Every great story needs a hero and a villain and no matter what side of the fence you fall on, these teams can play both roles. For New England the Ravens are the new kids in town looking to challenge the Patriots for the title as the AFC benchmark franchise while the Ravens fans view the Patriots as the old rulers who need knocking off their perch. Whatever side you’re supporting, it sets up for another classic game between these two teams on Sunday afternoon as both side think they are the better team and deserve to go to the Super Bowl.